Monday was my Day Off. All this week I have work-related workshops to attend--all designed for my professional and personal betterment. But on Monday I snatched 25 minutes of extra-warm snuggle time in bed with T., and I got to pack L.'s school lunch while still in my pajamas; I got to pour myself a second cup of coffee, and I got to spend a good hour and a half playing Mama Bird and Baby Bird with T. until it was almost 10:00 and definitely time for a change.
T. has never been much of a child to play with toys. She won't sit down for any length of time and play with an object, although she will sit and make up scenarios for her stuffed animals and dolls. My son was always fairly content to sit with his things: his trains or Legos or, when he was younger, some noisy multi-buttoned electronic busy toy. He needed us there, nearby, but he often didn't need us directly interacting. T., however, extroverted people-person that she is, wants to play with a real human being (who can blame her?), and not with some plastic dollhouse. Her imagination soars when trying to come up with scenarios for her role-playing games, but then, when presented with toys and figures, she just can't muster up the interest to make them interact. They aren't flesh and blood, but plastic, and T. wants to deal with the real thing.
T. loves to create pretend conflicts in our games: the Baby Dinosaur fights with her big brother (nothing based on reality THERE), or the Baby Bird falls from her nest and needs rescuing, or--lo and behold!--the Mama Dinosaur spots a T-Rex lurking over the hill/bookcase and must take her Baby Dinosaur to shelter immediately. I marvel at her imagination, and at her need to create these elaborate games, mock performances of human interactions on a smaller scale. I imagine her 30 or 40 years from now, surely involved in some very people-oriented job, perhaps sorting out personal dramas for other people.
I love playing with T.--and I have always prided myself on being the kind of parent completely willing to get down on the floor and play with the kids--but all of T.'s games lately involve role-playing. Yesterday morning I was the Mama Bird, and the day before that the Dinosaur Mama, and last week it was all about being monkeys, right down to having to eat bananas one afternoon while swinging on the "tree" (the hammock). After we'd spent over an hour being Mama Bird and Baby Bird on Monday, T. wanted to launch right into a game of being Big Sister Bird and Little Sister Bird. But then my eyes glazed over at the thought of this new twist on things, and I fled to the sanctuary of the bathroom, amid much protest from T. While I was taking an extra-long shower I felt a twinge of guilt about feeling impatient over these games; surely a better parent would have cheerfully given up an entire morning to pretend role-playing? But the truth of the matter is that my patience for these types of long involved pretend games--complete with fake names and identities and animal voices and having to talk in character--is wearing a bit thin as I grow older. Quite frankly, really, I get bored, and I start thinking about all the other things I could be doing, like mopping the floor, or putting away Scott's neatly folded piles of laundry. On days like yesterday I always end up feeling inadequate, somehow, and wishing T. had a posse of friends or siblings to play with for hours on end--I feel, irrationally, like I'm just not enough.
I think parents in the "old days" worried a lot less about how fun they were, or about whether or not they were spending enough time playing all the games their kids wanted them to play. Kids played with kids and parents were the parents, and an imaginary (and sometimes real) line was drawn between the two. Fun parents back then were fun because they didn't constantly step in and ruin the games with practical and boring admonishments about safety and such; they weren't fun because they played for hours with their children--this was unheard of. Times have changed--in many ways for the better, I think, and in some ways for the more difficult. I love playing with my kids, and I wouldn't trade it for all the world, but I would like to feel entitled from time to time to be bored or impatient with their games, without also feeling that incredible rush of Mommy guilt, or the worry that somehow I've let my child down horribly and deeply because I've drawn the line at pretending to be a Big Sister bird.